Lessons for May 18, 2014

Christ Is Our Good Shepherd

These are the Scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

God’s Word for This Week

Good Shepherd Sunday. The image of shepherd and sheep are certainly familiar to modern Christians, but do those concepts resonate as deeply for us as they did for the people of God 2000 years ago? “In such a landscape as Judea, where a day’s pasture is thinly scattered over an unfenced tract of country, covered with delusive paths, frequented by wild beasts, and rolling off into the desert, the shepherd and his character are indispensable. On some high moor, across which at night the hyenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their kings; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.” (George Smith) On Good Shepherd Sunday we see how sharp the contrast is between true shepherds and false shepherds. All is determined by their relationship to Christ, the only gate for the sheep.

Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen.

To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”

When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Here are some questions to consider from this lesson that explore the theme of Christ as our Good Shepherd. (Some more exploration and possible answers to the questions can be found at the end of the post.)

What qualifications did the church look for in the men it chose to assist the apostles? (verse 3)

How were Stephen's dying words like those of his Lord?

1 Samuel 17:34-37

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

Here is a question to consider from this lesson that explores the theme of Christ as our Good Shepherd. (Some more exploration and a possible answer to the question can be found at the end of the post.)

How does the shepherd David remind you of your Good Shepherd?

1 Peter 2:19-25

For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Here is a question to consider from this lesson that explores the theme of Christ as our Good Shepherd. (Some more exploration and a possible answer to the question can be found at the end of the post.)

How does Peter identify Jesus with that of a shepherd?

Hebrews 13:20-21

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Here is a question to consider from this lesson that explores the theme of Christ as our Good Shepherd. (Some more exploration and a possible answer to the question can be found at the end of the post.)

What makes Jesus uniquely capable to be the one gate for the sheep? What is the result of us grasping the Easter miracle?

John 10:1-10

“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Here are some questions to consider from this lesson that explore the theme of Christ as our Good Shepherd. (Some more exploration and possible answers to the questions can be found at the end of the post.)

What is the relationship of the shepherd to his sheep?

What does Jesus mean by likening himself to a gate for the sheep?

ANSWERS

Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60

What qualifications did the church look for in the men it chose to assist the apostles? (verse 3)

How were Stephen's dying words like those of his Lord?

1 Samuel 17:34-37

How does the shepherd David remind you of your Good Shepherd?

Long before he was the royal shepherd of the kingdom of Israel, David shepherded his father’s flock in the wild country. He let no danger stop him from caring for his sheep. No law required a shepherd to fight lion and bear for the sake of the sheep. In fact, David’s words here and Christ’s in John 10 are all the more striking because Rabbinic law made it clear that a shepherd was not called upon to expose his own life for the safety of his flock. David, a good shepherd, knew what he spoke of when he extoled the comfort of the Shepherd’s rod and staff in Psalm 23. See his words fulfilled in great David’s greater Son!

1 Peter 2:19-25

How does Peter identify Jesus with that of a shepherd?

Before we knew Christ, we were lost.  We were wandering about as stray sheep with no one to care for us or look after us.  But we now have a Shepherd.  Sheep without a shepherd are doomed, vulnerable to any wild animals (1 Peter 5:8).  But with Christ as our Shepherd we are safe.  He is leading us toward our eternal home, always aware of our every condition.

Hebrews 13:20-21

What makes Jesus uniquely capable to be the one gate for the sheep? What is the result of us grasping the Easter miracle?

Only one gate leads to life eternal, because only Christ provided the blood of the eternal covenant. As we sheep stand looking back at the Easter miracle, we are empowered and equipped to follow our Shepherd wherever he may lead.

John 10:1-10

What is the relationship of the shepherd to his sheep?

Because of the hours of tender care, the shepherd would know each of his sheep by name.  The shepherd knows the distinct personality of each.  The sheep, on the other hand, would recognize the shepherd's voice as he calls them by name. The sheep follow because they know the voice of the shepherd while wary of the strangers'.

What does Jesus mean by likening himself to a gate for the sheep?

Jesus himself is the gate through which the shepherds must enter to get to their sheep.  He is the one through whom the sheep must go in order to find good pasture.  All who are truly shepherds (pastors, teachers and staff ministers) are those who believe in him as their Savior and guide their sheep only by means of his Word.

In the three-year cycle of readings, Good Shepherd Sunday draws its Gospel lessons from successive readings of John 10. In this lesson, Christ only infers that he is the Good Shepherd. Rather, the great “I am” statement that sets the direction for this Sunday is “I am the gate for the sheep.” The preceding context of this lesson is crucial. After Jesus healed the man born blind, the Pharisees interrogated the man and his family about the healing. The Pharisees had already rejected Jesus as the Christ and were expelling from the synagogue anyone who confessed Christ. After throwing the man out of the synagogue, they verbally accost Jesus. This lesson is his answer to them. Jesus’ “I am” statements highlight the exclusivity of the Christian message. Christ is Savior, and there is no other! Jesus is the only gate for the sheep, and there is no other! When a man approaches the sheep, one only needs to see how he enters the pen. Does he use the gate, i.e., does he confess Christ as Savior? True shepherds use the gate, preach Christ, and love the sheep. False shepherds refuse the gate, reject Christ, and destroy the flock.